Voyageurs National Park Officials To Continue Discussions Into Proposed Campsite Reservation System

A backcountry campsite along Rainy Lake. NPS photo.

A proposal to establish a campsite reservation system at Voyageurs National Park will be the topic up for discussion next week in Minnesota.

This is the final year of a three-year civic engagement discussion to determine if Voyageurs should move to a reservation system. Discussions set for Monday the 7th and Thursday the 10th will include charging for campsite and houseboat site use by night to ensure future maintenance and upkeep of the sites.

“We believe we have come up with the best formula to maintain the sites while passing on a low cost to the user. Now it is time to discuss it with park neighbors and users and get their opinion of whether we should implement it or not," said Superintendent Mike Ward.

In discussions with communities alongside the park, there have been many who feel the park should charge for sites and offer reservations so as to bring new users to the area. Many new users will not consider camping in Voyageurs without a reservation system, especially since it is a 100 percent boat-in park. All sites are currently first-come, first-served.

To see how farflung the campsites are in the park's backcountry, check out this topographic map with campsites marked.

Monday's public meeting is set to run from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Crane Lake Fire Department/Hall on 7400 Handberg Road in Crane Lake, Minnesota.

Thursday's meeting is set to run from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Lake Superior College, 2101 Trinity Road in Duluth, Minnesota.

Along with taking comment from anyone who shows up for the meetings, park officials have set up a phone number (218-283-6708) for the public to call and be able to express their concerns or support for the reservations and costs for campsites.

Comments

Do they not have a mechanism for capturing public comments other than a phone line? That seems highly susceptible to manipulation. Here in the Smokies they accepted public comments but tried to keep them from being made public because they were overwhelmingly opposed to the backcountry fee. It sounds like the NPS has removed that documentable form of opposition in favor of a more manipulatible one. Understand that these public comments are just lipstick on a pig anyway. If the NPS says they are "thinking" about a fee, you can expect to see a fee. Watch and see.

Manipulating public comments? Naw, can't be true, lol!

I won't get into the question of manipulating public comments, but will note that in parks without reservation systems it sometimes can be very hard for distant travelers to find a place to pitch their tents.

One such park is Canyonlands, where the Squaw Flat Campground has but 26 sites and is, if memory serves me well, 70 miles or so from Moab. As the park notes on its website, Squaw Flat "typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October." I've been there, and would-be campers start circling by 8 a.m. to see who might be checking out. In other words, if you arrive at noon hoping to find a spot, you more than likely are out of luck. Fortunately, there is a commecial campground right outside the park entrance to the Needles District.

I can imagine things might be even trickier at Voyageurs. Imagine if you set out by canoe with a specific campsite in mind, and after three hours of paddling find it occupied. Then what do you do?

Conversely, locals who decide at the last minute to head to the park can also be locked out by reservations made months in advance. This can be somewhat rectified by setting aside some sites for walk-ups, but in short there doesn't seem to be a perfect system for appeasing either the road warriors or the locals.

This is a tough circle to square. I've been planning a packrafting loop that would invovle paddling across Kabetogama Lake, hiking through the Peninsula, and then paddling back around through Rainy Lake, Voyageurs and Blind Indian Narrows; I doubt I'd have much trouble finding a campsite on the return loop through the Narrows, since there are so many, but if the few campsites in the interior of the peninsula were to be taken already by the time I arrived, that would make things pretty tricky. So, maybe a reservation system for only those sites that are so remotely located as to leave one without any alternatives?

I had the good fortune to travel Voyageurs by houseboat a few years ago, and the first-come first-served campsite situation was challenging. Houseboats are about as hydrodynamic as a brick so it takes a long time to get anywhere. It was always a nervewracking proposition whether to forge on or detour into a bay to check on the one site there or just stay put for another night. I can only imagine how much higher the stakes are for paddlers. On the other hand I think there's a great value in spontaneity, either for locals to seize on a last-minute opportunity or for travellers who find a campsite worth lingering in (or abandoning as soon as possible). I would like to see a mix of reservable and non-reservable sites.